20 Songs with Really Bad Grammar

lolcatAs a former journalist and being the son of an English professor and librarian, I’m sensitive to proper grammar. I’ve learned to bite my tongue whenever someone says “Between he and I” or “irregardless,” although I have been known to correct signs in grocery stores and restaurants. It’s an affliction, I’ll admit.

Recently, a friend of mine reminded me of how I used to make fun of Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract,” in which every verse begins with the words “It ain’t.” That got me thinking about other grammar violations in songs.

There are a lot of songs with bad grammar. Horrible, awful grammar. So many, in fact, that I’ve had to limit my search to only the worst offenders. Here the best bad grammar examples in music, grouped by type of grammar felony.

Improper use of the objective pronoun

  • Bryan Adams, “Run to You” – “But that’d change if she ever found out about you and I.” Simple rule here, folks. Take out the “you and” and see if the sentence makes sense. Sorry, Bryan. It’s supposed to be “you and me.” I’ll give you a break because you’re Canadian, eh?
  • Queen, “Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy” – “I’d like for you and I to go romancing.” D’oh! I thought only bad artists committed grammar violations! No, Freddie, no!
  • Eric Carmen, “Hungry Eyes” – “I feel the magic between you and I.” “I” doesn’t even rhyme with “eyes,” and it’s almost the same word! Couldn’t you say you use “pies” or “rise”?
  • Paula Cole, “I Don’t Want to Wait” – “So open up your morning light /And say a little prayer for I.” Good Lord. She followed the above rule and still screwed it up. And again, the verses don’t rhyme. “What about “Have a cup of morning tea / And say a little prayer for me?” Makes about as much sense and is grammatically correct.

Misspelled lyrics

  • Fergie, “Fergalicious” – “T to the A to the S-T-E -Y / Girl, you’re tasty.” Thanks, Fergie and will.i.am, a whole generation of kids will now misspell “tasty,” and for that matter, “William.” But what do you expect from two of the people who gave us the song that inspired this blog?

Lie vs. Lay

I learned this one from Mrs. Jenkins’ seventh grade English class. “Lie” is for lying down, to make oneself horizontal on a surface; it does not carry an object. “Lay” requires an object, i.e., you’re laying something on a table. Easy enough, right? Apparently not:

  • Eric Clapton, “Lay Down Sally”. I would try to give him the benefit of the doubt and think that he was telling someone that he was laying Sally down on a bed or the ground. But then he starts talking to her in the second verse. No, he’s telling her to “lie down.” Guilty!
  • Bob Dylan, “Lay Lady Lay.” And he’s supposed to be a poet.
  • Bonnie Raitt, “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” “Lay down with me, tell me no lies.” Maybe she didn’t want to have the word “lie” in two consecutive verses. Still no excuse.

Making up words to complete a rhyme

  • Gwen Stefani, “Bubble Pop Electric” – “I’m restless, can’t you see I try my bestest.” No, Gwen,  you didn’t give it your best.
  • Justin Timberlake, “What Goes Around” – “When you cheated girl, my heart bleeded girl.” I know, Justin, it seems like the past tense of “bleed” should be “bleeded,” but it’s not. English is weird. Hey, I just had this conversation with my 4-year-old the other day…
  • Trace Adkins, “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” – I hate to mention a country song, because that opens up a whole new realm of grammar mistakes. But “badonkadonk”? Really?

Special subcategory: Just making up words

  • Young Rant/Shorty B, “Can We Conversate” / Case, “Conversate” – When did “conversate” become a word? I guess instead of admiring someone, we’ll soon “admirate” someone. Or instead of authorizing something, we’ll “authorizate” it.

Redundant redundancy

  • Everclear, “I Will Buy You a New Life” – “I will buy you a new car, perfect, shiny and new.” Yes, but will it be new?

Subject-verb agreement

  • The Police, “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” – “Everything she do just turns me on.” Perhaps Sting is keeping in line with the whole reggae/ska feel of the Police’s early music. But using “does” here really wouldn’t hurt.
  • Timbaland, “The Way I Are” – “Can you handle me the way I are?” Does anyone really talk like this?

The unexplainable

  • Dan Fogelberg, “Stars” – “Far too many stars have fell on me.” For some reason I expected more from Fogelberg. Jeez, he even uses the word “fickle” in this song. How can you do that and get the past participle of “fall” wrong?
  • Backstreet Boys, “I’ll Never Break Your Heart” – “As time goes by, you will get to know me a little more better.” Maybe if she spends more time with you, she’ll know you much more betterer. Then she’ll know you the betterest. Gwen Stefani will think that’s the most bestest, I’m sure.
  • Gwen Stefani, “Rich Girl” – “If I was a rich girl…” The rule here is the past subjunctive requires the plural form of the verb to be. That’s a tough rule, and Gwen may not have known that. But this is a remake of the Fiddler on the Roof song, “If I WERE a Rich Man.” So for some reason, she thought the original composers were wrong, and she, the grammar queen, would make the verse grammatically correct. Either that, or she has an evil plot to dumb down America. Or she’s kinda stupid. I mean, who else had two songs on this list?
  • Kanye West, “Jesus Walks” – “Yo, We at war/We at war with terrorism, racism, and most of all we at war with ourselves/God show me the way because the Devil trying to break me down” Now I know targeting Kanye West lyrics is like shooting fish in a barrel, but I find this one fascinating. Kanye doesn’t seem to understand the concept of helping verbs.  How hard would it be to change “We” to “We’re”? Still the same number of syllables…

Honorable Mention

Lee Greenwood, “God Bless the U.S.A” – “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” At first glance, this seems okay. But Regina over at AmIRight.com exposes the grammar offense. Her analysis is spot-on:

While the singer’s patriotic sentiments are touching, the relationship of dependent and independent clauses here just doesn’t work. That is because the connector, “where”, is a place-referent connector and therefore needs an antecedent of place in the independent clause. But there is no antecedent of place. That is to say, “I’m proud to be in America, Where at least I know I’m free” would work grammatically, but the actual lines here don’t, since “an American” does not imply a place, but is followed by “where”, which needs to refer back to a place.

That’s so snobby. I love it – especially when describing such a snobby, pompous song as “God Bless the U.S.A.”

Finally, I’d like to clear up a misconception about what continually comes up as a grammar felony: Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Live and Let Die.” Many have interpreted the lyrics at the beginning of the song as “But if this ever-changing world in which we live in / makes you give in and cry,” and note the two “in”s as a grammar faux pas.

But the correct words could also be: “But if this ever-changing world in which we’re livin’.” So not only would McCartney avoid a grammar felony, but he would also manage to avoid ending his sentence in a preposition. Bravo, Paul!

Coming up next, our grand prize winner. I give you one of the worst offenders of the English language I’ve ever seen. The queen of the bad grammar songs. (Hint: Her name rhymes with fiancé.)

Comments (60)
  1. Laurie

    Just wanted to make little comment about the song, “The Way I Are”, yes, people talk like this all the time. Teaching kindergarten this year, it seemed like I was correcting grammar as often as I was redirecting behavior. You would be horrified to hear some of what I hear every day. The sad thing is, as long as musicians continue butchering the English language, children are going to continue thinking that’s the way they are supposed to talk.

  2. peter

    I weep for our future, Laurie.

  3. jb

    This are a really good post. I can’t imagine a gooder one. It’s the bestest post I’ve ever sawn.

  4. peter

    Thanks, Beyonce!

  5. AMD

    Brilliant post. And educational. I totally missed that will.i.am is supposed to be punctuation-raped version of William. I presumed it was perhaps a statement of intent referring to s specific time in the very early hours of a new day.

  6. Michael Fortes

    Love it! And related to the place-referent connector discussion, I always wince when I hear the Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night” for this reason: “the only time I feel alright is by your side.” “By your side” is a place, not a time. D’OH!

  7. peter

    Ooh, that’s a nice one!

  8. Graham Lester

    Dylan should win for worst use of grammar for his misuse of “whom” in the Immigrant Song:

    Whom eats but is not satisfied
    Whom hears but does not see

    He’s great anyway, though.

  9. Gary

    Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard, Paul Simon (Julio and I)
    All Shook Up, Elvis (Shaken)
    Who Do You Love, George Thoroughgood (Whom)

    How about lyrics:
    “If I was king for a day” Thompson Twins (were)
    “… I lay down and die.” Gloria Gaynor (lie)
    “What if God was one of us…” Joan Osbourne (were)

  10. Songman

    How could you over look: “Is you is or is you ain’t my baby?”

  11. V

    Um your wrong about the first couple of songs describing lyrics using “you and I”. In older English vocabulary times, using “I” was the proper term to use after “you and”…, it’s only been recent that “me” has been referred to in the same way. Thus now both are recognized in sentences in similar regards, so no F-up there.

    And conversate is a definition. Don’t like it either.

    But everything else was right and funny as heck… especially Gwen hehe.

  12. peter

    Thanks for the comment! I’ve never seen “you and I” used as a compound object, though. I am basing my analysis on the Oxford Dictionary, which says, “It’s right to say ‘between you and me’, and wrong to say ‘between you and I’. This is because a preposition such as ‘between’ should be followed by an object pronoun such as ‘me’, ‘him’, ‘her’, and ‘us’ rather than a subject pronoun such as ‘I’, ‘he’, ‘she’, and ‘we’.” See http://www.askoxford.com/betterwriting/classicerrors/grammartips/iorme?view=uk.

    Now I sound like a real nerd.

  13. peter

    D’oh! I think I had blocked the Joan Osborne song out of my head permanently.

  14. peter

    Yeah, that one’s pretty bad. It also earns the bad grammar trifecta that Beyonce received.

  15. James Wood

    What about double negatives? There are so many examples!
    “We don’t need no education” – Pink Floyd (Clearly they do – should be “We don’t need ANY education”)
    “I can’t get no satisfaction” – again, should be “any”, maybe he’ll get some now.

  16. Cindy

    One song that really irritates me is Big Girls Don’t Cry by Fergie:

    “And I’m gonna miss you like a child misses their blanket”

    Personally, I really miss the pronoun/antecedent agreement that should be happening in these lyrics!

  17. Peter

    @James Wood: I could do a whole series on double negatives!

    @Cindy: Double points for it being a Fergie song.

  18. WorkInProgress

    Hey, may be snobby, but “which needs to refer back to a place” is grammatically incorrect as well. ; )

  19. llama

    10 points to WorkInProgress. -2 for Gary (“Who”). Nice job, V.

  20. Avery

    I want to blame the songwriter, but when you’re getting paid as much as some of these artists- a little prewriting/editing wouldn’t hurt.

  21. Paul

    I think you may be wrong on the Chasing Cars example. In hypothetical sentences, you always you the past tense verb in the “if” section, and the regular form in the resultant clause. Lay is the past tense version of lie. “If I lay here, would you lie with me?” You can substitute another verb to show that it’s true. “If I were here, would you be here?” Were and be are the same word, just different tenses.

  22. Lay Lay Lay

    So, Paul, you’re saying regarding the Chasing Cars example, that the lyrics are grammatically correct if the songwriter is saying, “If I lay an egg here, would you lie with me”?

  23. leon

    Thanks for your efforts to stem the tide of grammatical anarchy. I fear that words no longer have any meaning; they are simply the vehicles for conveying feeling. No matter that no two people have the same reaction; feeling is all that matters.
    Thinking?? You can’t be serious! Where did that ever get us?

  24. poocko

    Sorry, but I think some of this argument is flawed from the beginning. The problem is with the confusion between ‘grammar’ and ‘registers’ (formal, informal…). Just because some grammar forms are considered incorrect in formal English, it does not mean they are not correct in colloquial use – people just talk like this, and they always will. For example the “we don’t need no education” line – I think it works quite well in the context of the song – we don’t care about the double negative or any other rules from the school…

  25. My hmphs

    @poocko: Thanks for the comment. Just because certain idioms are used informally does not make their usage correct. Rules are rules; in fact, informal registers can be and often are grammatically correct – using “How’s it going” instead of “How are you,” for example. Your example of “Another Brick in the Wall” does work well within the context of the song, but it’s completely separate from the examples I mention. However, I don’t think Beyonce or Fergie was trying to be ironic or thought-provoking; their lyrics seem more lazy or ignorant to me.

  26. Cogito

    Interesting post! Thanks for sharing. I think it’s important to distinguish between clear misuse and artistic license. That said, many of your examples grate on my ears, especially when it’s hard to see what the artist gained through the solecism.

  27. LL

    What do you meand by “I’ll give you a break because you’re Canadian.” Are Canadians known for producing bad grammer, and therefore should be excused?

  28. Sarah Binning

    Another classic grammatically incorrect song:
    “Who do you love” by The Doors.
    If grammatically correct, this should be sung as “Whom do you love”

  29. Kendra

    You know what bothers me more than anything?

    “Hey, have you ate yet?”

    Ughh..that makes me want to pull my hair out and use it to strangle the speaker.

  30. Amir

    I very much appreciated this list, so Mr. Authorman, thank you. Fun fact: I found this page while looking for whether the Queen lyrics were really wrong or if I was just ignorant of some rule or exception. The reason I even questioned it — and this doesn’t really make good sense, but I figured it merited investigation — was because unlike “between you and me,” in this case, he’s referring to the two people who in this case are the subjects of the activity he wants done.

    I don’t exactly know how to say what I mean to say, so I’ll say this: We say “I’d like to go romancing” or “I go romancing.” I realize that we don’t say “I’d like for I to go romancing” but I don’t know why except that I is the “object of the preposition ‘for'” but that feels like a weak reason. Could someone help me break this sentence down? Like, grammatically, what is “for us to get drinks later” in the sentence “I’d like for us to get drinks later.”

    And finally, on the whole “whom” vs “who” thing, I really think that we should bring back in the old english “hwone” (dropped in middle english) for an easy distinction between when the direct or indirect object is in question. In which case, it really should be “Whon do you love?” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_English_personal_pronouns]

  31. Rexler

    Will someone please explain to me the sense in that line in the chorus of Alicia Keys’ “Empire State Of Mind”:



  32. TK

    FYI badonkadonk (also called badunkadunk, depending on region) is not a word invented for that specific song. It’s a slang word used to describe a large, attractive posterior. It’s been used since the early 90’s. It’s on the same level as using any other slang word in a song, so if you discount it you must also discount peeps, bros, dubs, fly, jiggy, hella, skeevy, sketch (used to describe one who is sketchy, not a quick charcoal drawing), heasy and/or fo’ sheasy or any variation thereof, tweak, whack (as in this or that is whack, not as in to whack someone on the head or some such.), phat, psyche, or other such terms. Slang is slang. It’ll be used in music forever. I just think it’s a travesty that a word used in hip-hop and rap songs for so long is being used in a country song. It seems to be making fun of a word I grew up with. I don’t like that. Language is always evolving and I feel it is our duty to accept new words. Just look at the history of “ask” (from the word acsian, as in it was pronounced originally as aks)and you see why we must be open to language evolution (aks is now stigmatized as lower class or unintelligent although it is the original form)

  33. mysterydancinggirl

    Rexler: It’s not
    “Concrete jungle where dreams are made of”
    “Concrete jungle WET dreams are made of”.

    I think it was a change requested by censors.

    Mr Authorman: Love your work.

  34. TJ

    Past subjunctive makes no sense to me, and defies logic.

    “I was going to the store” makes sense/sounds correct to me.
    “If I was going to the store” also makes sense.

    “If I were going to the store” sounds just as bad as “I were going the store”. I realize the rule states that when you add an “if” then you have to change “I was” to “I were”, however it still sounds as poor to me as it looks on paper.

    my 0.00002

  35. Jamie

    The Black Eyed Peas – I Gotta Feeling

    Gotta means “got to”, therefore:

    I got to feeling….

    Hmm ¬¬

  36. treena

    And let us not forget this one from “I’ll Be There”

    If you should ever find someone new/I know he’d better be good to you/’Cause if he doesn’t/I’ll be there

  37. Robby

    To this day, I always think of you singing and then launcing into a rant every single time I hera “Run to You.” Heard it this morning while driving to school and was launched back to 84-85ish and saw you there in your Alex Keaton shirt and tie going on about the Bryan Admas bad grammar. Little di we know how the Canadians just don’t value semantics like out American musicians do. THanks, hip hop!

  38. Jamin Koehn

    Why is “Live and Let Die” not mentioned?

    Hello!? “…the world in which we live in.”

    Without a doubt, that bugs me far more than songs where the artist uses a made-up word, like “bestest” or “badonkadonk.”

  39. admittedlyasnob

    Here is a horrendous gem which makes me cringe every time: “Robert’s and I’s parents are friends” – arrrggghhhh!

    And what about the title of Jennifer Hudson’s new song, “Where You At” – lordy, lordy!

  40. randy

    wait, you forgot something: EVERY RAP SONG EVER!

    not only do they misspell every word, they invent their own to make it rhyme. how unbearable pathetic! talentless losers. don’t even get me started on the grammar. seriously, rappers are retarded

  41. justin

    its music it doesnt have to have perfect grammar

  42. Logan

    “Lonely Day” by System of a Down.
    It contains the line “… the most loneliest day of my life.”

  43. Anon

    They’re songs people, the artist is allowed to have a little freedom for the sake of art. I agree some of these are stupid, but “Lie Lady Lie” would make a terrible song.

  44. Nik

    @Lay Lay Lay
    The Chasing Cars song is correct.

    Present Tense Past Tense
    Lie Lay
    Lay Laid

    If I sat here, would you sit with me?
    If I lay here, would you lie with me?
    If I laid an egg here, would you lay an egg with me?

  45. Will Peters

    @Nik – You are of course absolutely right. I’ve blogged about this one; if you’re interested, just google ‘Why I think Snow Patrol got it spot on’. The strange thing is that foreign students have no problems with this one – ‘lay / lie’ seems to be a specifically native speaker problem.

    @Sarah Binning – but do you know of anybody who’d actually say conversationally, ‘Whom do you love’? – I certainly don’t. I teach foreigners English, and none of our (British) text books teach this usage of ‘whom’, except in very formal (i.e. written) language. Hardly suitable then for a popular song. If the Doors had sung your ‘correct’ version, they would have just sounded like stuck up prigs.

  46. Grammar Nazi

    I go INSANE when I hear a grammatical error!! This page made me take comfort in the fact that there are other grammar freaks out there besides me and my language arts teacher…..oh and I’ve also got this one-

    LMNT-Hey Juliet: ‘Maybe, someday, you and me can run away’

  47. Linc

    I found this page while trying to learn if others were in as much disbelief as I was with the Paula Cole “say a little prayer for I” lyric. Great article. Thanks.

    You were too easy on Dan Fogelberg, though. While a great musician, Fogelberg must have been a very poor student in English class. (Nonetheless, we are all better off for the fact that his father was a band teacher, rather than an English teacher.)

    Here are a few other offenders of his:
    (I’m not going to bother with pointing out where the mistakes are. I hope they are obvious.)

    from “Same Old Lang Syne”:
    “She would have liked to say she loved the man
    But she didn’t like to lie”
    (I admire him for even attempting this kind of grammatical construct, though, as it certainly wasn’t in his wheelhouse.)

    from “Leader of the Band”
    “Living out this life I’ve chose
    And come to know so well”

    and from “Longer”, the classically horrible:
    “Longer than there’ve been fishes in the ocean”

  48. Leigh

    “I can’t get no satisfaction…”

    “We don’t need no education…” Perhaps, yes, you do…

  49. lorna rivero

    I am West Indian..paula cole’s ‘say a little prayer for I’ always sounded funny (like laugh funny) because it is the way Rastafarians speak..they always refer to themselves as ‘I’ ..so I wondered why she copied this form of speech only for one sentence in the song..Rastas can identify with ‘for I’..I assure you..

  50. lorna rivero

    and what about Celine Dion’s ‘Do got to get water from the moon’ instead of ‘do I have to get water from the moon’..perfectly incorrect and it irks me every time i hear it..

  51. Shycello

    Add Lady Gaga’s “You and I” to the list. That’s the title, and, of course, is repeated ad nauseum throughout the song.

  52. James

    I just want to say that just because you use bad grammar colloquially, it doesn’t mean you don’t know how to use prescriptive grammar. Language is constantly evolving, and to say artists can’t express themselves in a manner that sounds more familiar to their audience as well as themselves isn’t right. Latin became Vulgar Latin, which then became Spanish, French, etc., and English is essentially just bad Proto-Germanic. And in 500 years, English will be completely different (yes, I just started a sentence with and for emphatic effect).

  53. Yamyam Hatton

    song writers are weird. That’s all. 🙂

  54. Hanifa K. Cook

    It doesn’t much to realise why the kids are getting so bad at English in school, let alone at home, because of the songs they enjoy lstening to.

  55. gavin

    I can’t get no satisfaction.

  56. Frazinray

    Nah, most of these terrible “mistakes” are spirited wordplay. As for the Lee Greenwood lyric (more sinning in substance than style), most people would count that as grammatical enough, just like the sentence “Angelo speaks Russian even though he’s never been there.”

  57. David Baker

    Since it’s Christmastime, we have to mention “Happy Holidays/It’s the Holiday Season,” in which Andy Williams keeps singing, “he’ll be comin’ down the chimney down!”

    “Down the chimney down”? Seriously? Couldn’t the lyricist come up with another phrase that fit the music any better?

  58. Josh Perry

    This is exactly why I choose to listen to doom metal and classical music. The south is terrible with grammar.
    Ain’t y’all gone finish yo conebread?

  59. Matthew Simmonds

    I just have to mention the worst offender, Peter Gabriel in Jeux Sans Frontiers, “If looks could kill they probably will”. This isn’t colloquial, just ignorant, and the worst thing about it is he could happily have used can!

  60. bootcamp808

    I love the song, but “I Gotta Feeling:” is just wrong. The song writer must have been sleeing in English class.